Leviticus is one of those books I used to skim over as I read through the Bible. I didn’t understand the laws—many of them felt arbitrary and bizarre. But as I read Psalm 119 I was struck by how the psalmist spoke of delighting in, longing for, and loving God’s law (Psalm 119:14, 20, 77, 97). The psalmist says that the law of the Lord is a source of life, goodness, steadfast love, truth, peace, and hope (119:40, 49, 68, 124, 151, 165). But that was not my experience at all. I longed to share the Psalmist’s encounter with Scripture—to fall in love with the stories, wisdom, and the laws of the God I love. So when my Old Testament professor told us that we could live “Levitically” for a week as a bonus assignment, I jumped on the challenge.
I began the week by going through my entire closet trying to find clothing that was “single fiber” (Leviticus 19:19). Going without bacon or ham for a week was no big deal, since I’m not a big meat eater (Leviticus 11). But the animal sacrifices were a little harder to incorporate into my daily routine (Leviticus 4). Fortunately, we had been told, “Follow as many rules as you can without getting arrested.”
I was ready to take on the challenge, but I was not prepared for how living Levitically would transform me.
1. I fell in love with the heart of God
I learned that the law shows us the heart of the lawgiver. But in order to get to the heart of the lawgiver of Leviticus, we as 21st-century Americans need to do some serious cross-cultural work. In his commentary on Leviticus Jay Sklar says, “Laws are an expression of the Lord’s values in a specific historical-cultural context.” By understanding the laws in their ancient Near Eastern context, we can understand the values that underlie them. Only then can we effectively bring the heart of the law and its giver back into our own context.
By studying the historical context of Leviticus, and by living out the laws, I learned that God cares about how we honor God and interact in our relationship (Leviticus 1–10, 23–24). I learned that God cares about hygiene and disease prevention (chapters 13–15). I learned that God honors human life and the lifeblood of all living things (17:10-16). God values and protects women and the vulnerable (chapter 18, 25:23-55). I learned that God cares about the earth and how we treat it (25:1-22).
As I structured my day and actions around God’s law, I became conscious of God in all the facets of my life. I understood, finally, how God provided the law so the Israelites could know how to walk in God’s love—because I began to fall more in love with God too.
2. I discovered the good news of the gospel
In the Old Testament, God calls the people of Israel to be holy, as God is holy. Holiness means set apart and exalted. God is holy in love, purity, and power, and calls Israel to be the same. “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). But the Israelites couldn’t stay in a ritual state of holiness, nor could I—even for one week.
On the last day of my challenge, I had a choice to make: do I go worship my holy God on Sunday morning, or stay home due to schedule conflicts and exhaustion? It was then that I realized the significance of what Jesus did for us in a way I never had before. Because of Jesus’s atoning work (Hebrews 10) I can have confidence that I am holy and righteous before God. It is okay that I am weak and limited as a human, because I am not held against an unattainable standard. I am beloved, redeemed, even persuaded of God’s love through the person of Jesus.
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV), and a few breaths later tells his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). Jesus gives us a deeper interpretation of the Old Testament laws. He says the whole of the law hangs on the commands to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). He also gives his disciples a new command, to love one another, just as he loved them (John 13:34-35). This is the good news of the gospel! Following God’s commandments is not something we do through our own strength, but in response to the love God has shown us through the Son. We are empowered to live rightly with God through the Spirit who is alive and at work in us (Romans 8:3-4). And the focus isn’t on perfectly adhering to rules or regulations, but abiding in God’s love and living it out in our relationships with one another.
By living Levitically I learned that the gospel is not just something we believe or speak about. It is something we embody through Christ. I realized that if the gospel does not transform the whole of my life, down to the last detail, then there is something missing.
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